How can Sergino Dest shine at FC Barcelona?

SANT JOAN DESPI, SPAIN - JULY 12: Sergino Dest of FC Barcelona is seen during a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper on July 12, 2023 in Sant Joan Despi, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
SANT JOAN DESPI, SPAIN - JULY 12: Sergino Dest of FC Barcelona is seen during a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper on July 12, 2023 in Sant Joan Despi, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images) /

When Sergino Dest was bought for €20m, the expectations were high for him and many were quick to label Dest as the next Dani Alves.

However, that hasn’t seemed to be the case for him and after a poor spell at AC Milan, his future seems to be at a crossroads. Despite all the rumours and speculation, it seems that Xavi is willing to give him a chance in pre-season according to a new report from Catalunya Radio.

Should Dest stay at Barcelona this season, how can the American fit into Xavi’s plans for the 2023-24 season?

First, we must understand who Dest is as a player. On the pitch, he has been used as a left-back and as a right-back during his time with both Ajax and Barcelona. However, his time with the latter has been spent mostly on the right-hand side of the pitch.

In previous years, Dest had been tasked with maintaining width and providing offensive output for Barcelona on the right, similar to what Alves was asked to do. Yet, Dest has rarely looked comfortable in this position and is not yet capable of being a player who produces from this position, so what type of fullback is he?

The problem results from managers using him incorrectly. Simply put, Dest is not a style of overlapping fullback like Alves, he is a fullback that inverts into the midfield.

At Ajax, Dest found his best form when inverting from the left-hand side similar to Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo. Barcelona bought him thinking that he could be an overlapping right back and were incorrect in their profiling of the player.

Given that Balde now holds control over the left-hand side and provides width there, the more natural position for Dest is still as a right back, where he can invert from there. In Xavi’s 3-2-2-3 box formation, Dest would be a natural fit on the right-hand side of the double pivot (the first of the 2’s).

Dest is more than capable of receiving the ball and progressing with it,  having a good first touch and being a technically sound player. In addition, he can help drive play through the middle while being incredibly pacey.

Dest is more than comfortable as an initiator in the first third and when the team has the ball higher up the pitch can run into gaps left open by the defence. A large part of what makes Dest able to play this role is his familiarity with the team’s identity in possession, where they are comfortable out-possessing their opponents and retaining the ball for continued pressure in the final third of the pitch.

There are a few slight problems though. First, is that Dest is not a good defender. While he is quick, Dest is not a strong one v one duel winner by himself,  and assuming that Frenkie De Jong occupies the left-hand side of the double pivot, teams will find it easy to create transition opportunities.

Admittedly, Barcelona’s focus on retaining possession and holding on to the ball mitigates some concern about a De Jong-Dest pivot but against top teams, it will not be good enough.

The second is when Xavi plays Raphinha as a right winger. Both Dest and Raphinha are players who love to invert from the right-hand side and drift more centrally. When this happens, it creates an imbalance in the middle of the pitch with a lack of players on the right-hand side. Despite this issue, should Dembele continue to line up on the right side as a winger who likes to stay wide, Dest will be allowed to invert into the midfield just fine.

Overall, Dest is a player that can definitely fit into Xavi’s plan for Barcelona but it will likely take some time for him to regain the form that he once showed.

With the pre-season right around the corner this will likely be Dest’s last chance to prove himself to Xavi and should he impress then he can be a good squad player in Barcelona’s upcoming season.